Marine Protected Areas (MPAs)

Scotland has some of the most beautiful and diverse marine ecosystems in the world. Marine Scotland is committed to protecting and enhancing these amazing ecosystems to ensure they are safeguarded for future generations to enjoy. Protected areas are used to ensure protection of some of the most vulnerable species and habitats.

Map showing Scotland’s MPA network 

The Scottish MPA network includes sites for nature conservation, protection of biodiversity, demonstrating sustainable management, and protecting our heritage. In total the network covers approximately 37% of our seas and comprises:

  • 231 sites for nature conservation protecting a broad range of habitats and species that are found in our seas. Habitats range from rocky shores and sea caves at the coastline to deep sea habitats such as coral gardens and Lophelia pertusa. Species range from harbour porpoise to common skate to puffins
  • 5 other area based measures which protect species such as sandeels and blue ling, as well as vulnerable marine ecosystems
  • 1 Demonstration and Research MPA around Fair Isle to investigate the factors affecting seabird populations and demonstrate the socio-economic benefits of protecting the marine environment
  • 8 Historic MPAs to preserve sites of historical importance around the Scottish coast

In December 2018 Scottish Ministers laid a report in the Scottish Parliament describing progress with implementing the MPA network.

The Red Rocks and Longay Urgent MPA

Map showing The Red Rocks and Longay urgent MPA within the Inner Sound

Map showing the Red Rocks and Longay urgent MPA within the Inner Sound

The Scottish Government was initially notified of the presence of flapper skate eggs in the Inner Sound of Skye in late 2019 and have awaited scientific advice from NatureScot on this matter. We received this advice in October 2020 following additional surveys, and protection of the site has since been considered as a priority. We have sought to fully understand the national context and potential threats to the nursery area, as well as views of key stakeholders. This has enabled us to develop an urgent MPA to provide appropriate interim protection for this flapper skate nursery area.

About flapper skate

Flapper skate (Dipturus intermedius) are a critically endangered species. They were historically abundant in the North-east Atlantic and widely distributed in the seas surrounding the British Isles, however its range has reduced significantly and catch rates declined throughout the 20th century. The flapper skate now only occurs in the northern North Sea and off Scotland’s north-west coast.

Now considered its own species, it was once thought that flapper skate and blue skate were the same species, called common skate. Flapper skate and blue skate (Dipturus batis) are now known as part of the common skate complex. Common skate are a protected feature of the Loch Sunart to the Sound of Jura MPA.

Little is known about flapper skate breeding grounds and breeding habits due to their rarity. Their eggs take around 18 months to hatch and are sensitive to disturbance from a number of marine activities during that time.

Urgent MPA designation

On 10 March, Scottish Ministers designated an urgent Marine Protected Area (MPA) in the Inner Sound of Skye to protect a flapper skate egg nursery area, called the Red Rocks and Longay MPA

Marine Scotland received advice from NatureScot about flapper skate eggs in the Inner Sound of Skye in October 2020. Marine Scotland followed this up with a set of questions the next month. Subsequent advice from NatureScot on 18 December stated that this site is of national importance for the conservation of the species and recommended a precautionary approach is used when implementing protection.

The MPA was developed using advice from NatureScot to understand the conservation requirements of the flapper skate eggs, and input from stakeholders to understand areas of economic importance and views about the extent of the site boundary. The final boundary was felt to provide an optimal balance between protecting the known skate egg records and minimising adverse impacts arising from the site designation. Minutes from stakeholder meetings will be published online shortly.

Social and economic assessments are not required for urgently designated Marine Protected Areas. Due to the need for urgent protection, social and economic impacts have not been fully assessed for the temporary designation. Scottish Government officials discussed proposals with impacted stakeholders in order to minimise adverse socioeconomic impacts arising from the urgent MPA, whilst supporting the conservation of this critically endangered species. Further surveys will be undertaken in 2021 to inform permanent proposals, which will undergo full stakeholder engagement, impact assessment and public consultation.

Why we need to do this

There has been no damage to this site that we know of, however NatureScot have advised that flapper skate eggs are highly sensitive to disturbance and as a nationally important site, these should be protected urgently. An MPA can designated under section 77 of the Marine (Scotland) Act when Ministers consider there to be an urgent need to do so. An urgent MPA can only remain in place for a maximum of 2 years, after which time the site would need to be made permanent, following full assessment and public consultation.

Urgent MPA management measures

Interim management measures will come into force on 17 March 2021 and initially be in place for a period of 12 months. NatureScot has advised that the site is of national importance to the conservation of this critically endangered species, and recommended that a precautionary approach is taken when developing interim protection. Scottish Ministers have therefore chosen to prohibit all activities with the potential to adversely impact the egg nursery area whilst permanent protection measures are developed. Full stakeholder engagement, impact assessment and public consultation will be undertaken during the development of permanent protection proposals. A full list of interim management measure are available in the Marine Conservation Order and include:

  • fishing - dredging
  • fishing - creels
  • fishing - demersal trawling or seine
  • fishing – gill/trammel nets
  • fishing – scallop diving
  • recreational sea angling
  • recreational diving
  • marine deposit sites/waste disposal
  • aquaculture
  • marine infrastructure
  • anchoring

Fishing vessel access to the MPA

Fishing vessel licence conditions have been amended to incorporate restrictions within the MPA. A fishing vessel must not be present within the MPA other than when travelling at a speed of greater than six knots (except in the case of force majeure, adverse weather conditions or fishing for pelagic species with trawl or encircling nets).

In the case of either you must get in touch and give details of the vessel's intentions:


Scientific derogations

A permit can be acquired from Marine Scotland Licencing Operations Team to allow particular activities which would otherwise be prohibited within the MPA, so long as they are for the purpose of scientific research and there is no significant risk of the particular activities hindering the achievement of the stated conservation objectives. A full list of these are availble in the Marine Conservation Order.

For an application form and further information on the application process:


Future plans for the site

We expect there to be a need to protect the site permanently, however the extent of the permanent site and its management will be informed by further evidence gathering, assessment and stakeholder engagement. Full stakeholder engagement, public consultation and impact assessments will be undertaken during the development of permanent proposals to protect site.

Designations in 2020

On 25 September 2020, Scottish Ministers designated a deep sea marine reserve; view the West of Scotland MPA map. A further 16 sites were subsequently added to the Scottish MPA network on 03 December 2020. These sites included four new inshore MPAs and 12 Special Protection Areas (SPAs). 

hese sites contribute to Scotland’s international commitments to protect the marine environment in the North-East Atlantic, as required under the Oslo and Paris Conventions (OSPAR Convention).

Inshore MPAs

Following advice from NatureScot, Scottish Ministers consulted on the four inshore MPAs in summer 2019. These sites protect a range of features including mobile species (such as minke whales, basking sharks and Risso’s dolphins) as well as seabed habitats. Read the consultation analysis report. These sites are:

Scottish Ministers completed a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) post adoption statement, an Island Communities Impact Assessment screening and final Business and Regulatory Impact Assessments in regard to these sites. You can view these documents here: Developing Scotland’s Marine Protected Area Network.

Final advice from NatureScot, including management advice and conservation objectives, and site information, is available on the NatureScot website. In addition, Marine Scotland has prepared recommendations for management in light of the NatureScot advice.

Offshore MPAs

We consulted on the West of Scotland MPA from 27 September to 31 December 2019. This consultation fulfilled a Programme for Government commitment to consult on a deep sea marine reserve. A consultation analysis report has been prepared. Read the West of Scotland MPA designation order

The West of Scotland MPA is the biggest MPA located in national waters in the entire North-East Atlantic and underpinned by the powers in the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009.

Featuring the deepest parts of Scotland’s seas at over 2,500 metres, the site safeguards some of the most vulnerable habitats and species on the planet, including deep sea sharks, coral gardens and a variety of other fauna.

It provides protection to 14 vulnerable habitats and species, including the Leafscale gulper shark, Orange roughy and Portuguese dogfish. Ten of these habitats and species have been declared as being in decline and under threat in the North-east Atlantic under the OSPAR Convention.

Scottish Ministers completed a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) post-adoption statement and a final Business and Regulatory Impact Assessment in regard to the West of Scotland MPA.

Final advice from the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC), including conservation and management advice, is available from the JNCC website.

Special Protection Areas (SPAs)

Following original proposals in 2016, twelve marine SPAs were classified on 03 December 2020. These sites are;

  • Solway Firth,
  • Seas off St Kilda,
  • Seas off Foula,
  • Outer Firth of Forth and St Andrews Bay Complex,
  • Moray Firth,
  • Ythan Estuary, Sands of Forvie, and Meikle Loch (extension).
  • Bluemull and Colgrave Sounds SPA
  • East Mainland Coast, Shetland SPA
  • Sound of Gigha SPA
  • Coll and Tiree SPA
  • Rum SPA
  • West Coast of the Outer Hebrides SPA

Scottish Ministers completed an Island Communities Impact Assessment screening and final Business and Regulatory Impact Assessments in regard to these sites. You can view these documents here: Developing Scotland’s Marine Protected Area Network.

Final advice from NatureScot and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee, including management advice and conservation objectives, and site information, is available on their websites.